Nova Scotia

Concerns about Shelburne County wharf construction prompt lawsuit

Jiri and Mary Havelka say the project has disrupted their lives and left them feeling trapped in their home and feeling ill at times.

Ottawa says Upper Port La Tour project is on schedule and budget, regularly evaluated

Scenes of construction work have been a regular sight for more than a year from the windows of Jiri and Mary Havelka's home in Upper Port Latour, N.S. (Mary Havelka/Submitted)

For Jiri Havelka and his wife, Mary, Upper Port La Tour on Nova Scotia's South Shore was exactly what they were looking for after years of living in Europe and Toronto.

The former engineers settled at the end of a road overlooking the harbour seven years ago, after first moving to Nova Scotia in 2003 in search of a slower pace.

They can see fishing boats come and go from their front windows and there's ample space between them and the next closest home.

"Just look around you," Jiri said when asked what he and his wife like about the area.

"We've got the ocean. We've got the forest around us. It's a pretty secluded place."

That seclusion and peace was interrupted a little more than a year ago, however. Since then, the Havelkas haven't been feeling very peaceful, and they're planning to go to court in an effort to do something about it.

Jiri Havelka says he and his wife were initially supportive of the wharf project and were friendly with contractors. Eventually, though, he says that relationship deteriorated. (Paul Porier/CBC)

Last year, Public Services and Procurement Canada awarded a contract for $5.9 million to Greenfield Construction to build a new wharf in Upper Port La Tour. The existing wharf will be removed when that work is complete.

The Havelkas say they felt good about the project and how it was being conducted at the beginning.

But as the work progressed and more materials were brought on site, they started growing concerned about their space being taken up, as well as noise and fumes from the machines being used for the work.

"This by itself was not that horrible," Jiri said. "Then they started dredging."

The process of removing materials from the bottom of the harbour to make way for the wharf created an "unbearable" smell. Havelka said it has made him and his wife feel trapped in their home at times and made them feel ill at other times.

A view of the new wharf being constructed in Upper Port La Tour. Federal government officials say the $5.9-million project is on schedule and on budget, with an anticipated completion date of Oct. 31. (Paul Porier/CBC)

What started as an amicable relationship between the couple and the contractor deteriorated as they raised concerns about the work, he said.

"We kept reminding them that things are not done perfectly, and that they should be done better. And, sure enough, they didn't like it."

The Havelkas's lawsuit, which is filed against Greenfield and the Attorney General of Canada, alleges the company's work has been negligent, inappropriate and done in an unreasonable manner "causing reasonably foreseeable damages to the applicants."

"The applicants have pleaded with the respondents to mitigate the harmful effects of the construction methods, but the respondents have declined to take reasonable steps to do so," says the claim. It has not been tested in court. The company and government have yet to file statements of defence.

Officials with Greenfield did not respond to requests for comment.

Inspectors ensuring work follows specifications

In a statement, a spokesperson for the federal government said the work in Upper Port La Tour remains on schedule and on budget, with an expected completion date of Oct. 31. There are no concerns with the work, according to the statement.

"Public Services and Procurement Canada has been involved from project initiation in monitoring the progress and quality of the work and has a qualified inspector on site to ensure that the work is completed as specified in the contract documents."

The statement says there has been "regular communication" with people interested in the project, including the Havelkas, "in order to ensure their awareness of the specific work being done, identify any concerns and work to address those concerns."

But Jiri said he thinks their concerns have gone unaddressed. The couple's claim asks a judge for an order prohibiting activity that interferes with reasonable enjoyment of their property and compensation for damages they've suffered.

"The purpose of suing them is just to force them to have more regard for us and also to review how they do things," he said.